And He Loved Them Anyway March 31, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Devotional Reflection, holy week.
Tags: holy week, Trust
I cannot read the gospel passages of Jesus’ last week on earth without wondering what must have been running through his mind. I realize that this is pure speculation — nothing more or less. But I feel like it must have been a time of great agitation and ambiguity. I can accept that Jesus reconciled himself to his own impending sacrifice. What catches my attention is how seemingly unready and unprepared the disciples were to carry on Jesus’ work. They were still ambitious, oblivious, obtuse, and naive. They were confused, doubting, duplicitous, and daunted. They weren’t ready to cope with what was to come. At best, they might hang together behind closed doors, hiding. Jesus faced his death not knowing whether his friends could carry on without him. They certainly gave him no indication they were capable. And he loved them anyway. On the night he gave himself up, he sat with his disciples and friends and — in the synoptics — he broke bread and blessed a cup of wine and he offered one last gesture of unity and grace. Peter still didn’t get it. James and John were wrestling with ambition. Thomas, was, well, Thomas. We don’t know much about the others, but it is safe to say that they weren’t far ahead of their compatriots. And Judas, for whatever motivation one might ascribe, betrayed Jesus. Within hours they would abandon him, and in various ways deny him, and he loved them anyway.
The Turning of the Tide March 28, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in holy week, Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: holy week, hypocrisy, Values
The shift from Palm Sunday to Good Friday has always fascinated me. Cheering masses turning to ugly mobs. Crowds assembling to catch a glimpse of the possible Messiah reconvene to scream for his blood. One might think Jesus supported healthcare reform and immigration, the way people turned nasty, threatening his very life. Oh, wait, that was part of the problem. He told the rich young ruler to give away all he had to the poor. He overturned the money-changers tables in the temple. He offended the scribes and Pharisees. He offended the self-righteous by dining with Zaccheus. He offended the pious by declaring the destruction of the temple. He offended the rich by telling them they were responsible for the poor. He offended the poor by being fair and kind to tax collectors and the rich. He offended everyone by accepting everyone AND chastising everyone. I am sure that the caustic fringe (of both his day and ours) would refer to him as Jesus Hussein Christ (finally… the answer to “Jesus H. Christ”) in a petty attempt to turn others against him. It really isn’t about Jesus, (And, no, I am not comparing Obama to Jesus, so don’t drive off that cliff…) but about how people react to those they want to harm or discredit. Holy Week points out in graphic detail the bizarre mixed-bag of love, hate, adoration, contempt, praise, curse, kindness and cruelty that is the basic state of being what is known as “human.” (more…)
Ravings of an Angry Evangelical March 26, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Core Values, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Evangelism, Values
Our country is being destroyed by ignorant, narrow-minded, arrogant, self-righteous Christians. They call themselves evangelicals, but throughout history they have been known by other names: tyrants, despots, hate mongers, fools…
David Carlsson, Message to America, 2009
Hold on. I confess that there are ignorant, narrow-minded, arrogant, self-righteous Christians out there — but there is a fundamental flaw in the following logic that makes me incredibly angry. And not just angry at the David Carlsson’s, but at all those who try to pidgeon-hole “those” who have ruined the word “evangelical.” The slim segment of ultra-conservative, neo-fundamentalist Christians who have redefined evangelicalism in the United States are not the whole story (and, by the way, it is not ONLY far-right Christians who are ignorant, narrow-minded, arrogant and self-righteous — there are some pretty obnoxious left-leaners as well. Just labeling your meanness “progressive” doesn’t help anything, either.) What also bugs me is that all of this labeling, re-labeling, defending, finger-pointing, and blaming moves us in exactly the WRONG direction. I am amazed how easy it is to get sucked into the “who is wrong/who is right” negative spiral. As I read such statements as Carlsson’s, I feel the stress rise within me, and my immediate reaction is to reply in kind. But anger — and acting out in response — will never move us to a better place. How can we rise above the maelstrom and find a place of peace and stability.
United Methodists Wanting to… What? March 23, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Congregational Life, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church membership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church… wants to… what? This is a question I asked for years when I worked for the General Board of Discipleship and travelled across the country. I let people fill in the blank, then pressed to be sure I understood what they meant. I came upon a notebook in which I recorded answers from 1994 through 2006.
Irrational Rationalization March 19, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Science and Theology, Spiritual Diversity.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, science and religion
I had a conversation with a friendly atheist recently that leaves me scratching my head. The reason is that, as I have found so often to be the case, he wouldn’t play by his own rules. This young man wanted to only address what was “provable” as true, but kept using his own personal and subjective experience as evidence in support of his “proving-a-negative” thesis (there is no God – proven by the absence of proof). He even, at one point, said that the growing number of educated people who don’t believe in God is evidence that there is no God. This after denying my assertion that the billions of people who believe in God gives credence to a “something” “out there” that people experience in a meaningful way. I spoke of the great good that his been done in the name of God throughout the centuries. He countered that the acts of humans in the name of God does not prove God’s existence, but then he proceeded to number the great atrocities done in the name of God as proof that God doesn’t exist. I talked about the transformative encounters with the divine in every generation of human existence through recorded time, but he argued that these were mere “hiccups” in our brain chemistry, and besides even more people did not have such experiences, so based on the weight of numbers, the “proof” was against, not for — and anyway, subjective experience should not be allowed. He told me he had prayed, and nothing had ever happened to him, which “confirmed his suspicions” that there was no God. Apparently, only his experiments are objective. We talked about the power of prayer. He explained that the connection between prayer and any tangible outcome was unprovable, and besides, even if a causal connection could be proven, it would do nothing to indicate that God has anything to do with it. I brought up the distinction between the physical and the metaphysical — the difference between proving what and how versus why, and he patiently explained that there is no why, only what and how — that why presumes a source and intention, and that is the very thing that cannot be proven. So I asked him what evidence exists that disproves source and intention, and he scoffed that there is no evidence, therefore it is untrue. (in his mind, you can prove a negative…). I asked, “So if I say – if I’m lying, may God strike me dead where I stand! – and I am not struck dead, this proves there is no God?” “Well, it certainly raises the question,” he replied.
Be A Tree March 18, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Devotional Reflection, spiritual practices.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, spiritual practices
There is this great old Peanuts cartoon. Lucy is explaining to little brother Linus how the world works. She takes him to a tree in the yard and shows him the falling leaves. She explains that this is a normal occurence, one of those wondrous cycles of nature. She says that there is an important lesson here, and asks if Linus know what it is. He replies, “Don’t be a leaf… be a tree!” What an amazing observation, and one that we could benefit from in the church. The author of Ephesians writes almost 2,000 years ago, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (4:14, NRSV) Two millenium later, how are we doing? Are we grown ups now, solidly joined as one — standing as a tree firmly rooted and grounded — or are we leaves tumbling in the wind? Are we known for our unity or our division? Are we bound together by trust and positive regard or separated by winds of doctrine?
A House Divided March 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Religion in the U.S., The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Racism, Religious Trends, Values
Oh, man, time to go fishin’ cause I opened up a can of worms! For ten straight days my Inbox has been full of emails concerning race relations in The United Methodist Church. The emails are troubling on two separate levels — one, that people don’t feel safe airing their views publically on the blog (“please don’t post these comments publically…), and two, the stories reflect a serious problem in the way we treat those who are different. I have received 126 emails — 3 saying that there is no racism in the church today, 21 saying that racism goes both ways and that whites are the current victims of racism, 18 saying it isn’t really racism if it is justified (i.e., if minorities are indeed inferior then we’re not being unfair, just telling the truth…), and a whopping 84 telling heartbreaking and painful stories of racism encountered at all levels of our church systems. I’ve heard from three bishops, seven district superintendents, one agency general secretary and a whole boatload of pastors who say, unequivocally, racism is alive and all too well in The United Methodist Church.
The problem with such overwhelming response (at least, overwhelming for this small, humble blog…) is that it highlights all the symptoms of the problems, without addressing the root causes. The bottom-line root cause is simple: we are allowing racism in the church. And I find it troubling that 2/3 of the stories indicate that racism is a real problem, while 1/3 dismiss it as irrelevant. We have yet to declare once and for all time that racism is evil and violent and unChristian and unacceptable. I’m not talking about racism grounded in ignorance or negligence. I am talking about outright prejudice and bigotry grounded in the hate of people based on heritage or skin color. I am talking about overt, unapologetic racism. Now, it may remain hidden and secret for a long, long time, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If you want to discover whether there is “underground” racism in your midst, accept a cross-cultural appointment. Regardless of your feelings about cross-cultural appointments, regardless of how “good” or “qualified” the pastor is (both smokescreen issues), if there is racism in the congregation, it will be revealed.
In this case, unChristian is to Christian, as undead is to the living. We have our emotional and spiritual equivalents in the church to the great monsters of gothic horror fiction — vampires who drain and dissipate positive energy and life, zombies who infect and consume and turn others through their poison, and werewolves who attack and savage and tear apart. We are talking about creatures who are bent on doing violence, and they don’t care who gets hurt. These are not merely misunderstood “sinners,” these are the people who are actively doing evil to their brothers and sisters. Am I overstating? I don’t know. This past week I have heard of:
- death threat phone calls in the middle of the night
- vandalism of homes and vehicles, with hate messages scrawled in a disgusting variety of substances
- actual shots fired from weapons at homes
- children being followed from school or called at home while alone
- hateful rumors being spread
- physical assaults
- name-calling and racial slurs in church
- destruction of property
- dead animals left of doorsteps
- people dressing up in sheets and hoods and running across pastor’s lawns
Mad Methodists March 12, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Communication, The United Methodist Church
A few years ago I stood up in a meeting at the General Board of Discipleship and asked, “Has anyone else noticed how many deeply angry people we have in The United Methodist Church?” At first, a few puzzled folks asked what I meant, but I didn’t even have to explain. Around the room, dozens of people chimed in with their own experiences with angry Methodists. While some felt there had always been a disgruntled segment of the church, most felt that the number of angry people was on the increase. As part of my ongoing research, I began to probe with people their feelings about the church to see if I could get at the root of our mad-ness.
As is often the case with anger, the upset is a symptom of a deeper cause — and the deeper causes fall into four basic categories: fear, disappointment, confusion, and isolation. Luckily, there is one single treatment that addresses all four symptoms.
Four Sin-Dromes March 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
The concept of “sin” actually means “to miss the mark.” It doesn’t matter if you miss by an inch or miss by a mile — a miss is a miss is a miss. And there are four “sins” — ways we are “missing the mark” — prevalent in our congregational systems today. You decide whether we are missing a little or missing a lot. The four “sin” dromes (syndromes) are: Founder Syndrome, Savior Syndrome, Scapegoat Syndrome, and the Quick-Fix Syndrome.
Founder Syndrome — when a church’s success is fundamentally dependent upon the charisma and vision of the founding pastor, you don’t have a healthy, vital church — you have a problem. Don’t make this church a model, don’t let it become a poster child for “successful” churches, and please, please don’t let the pastor publish a book. You don’t have a winning formula — you have dysfunction. This in no way disparages the fantastic results some founding pastors are able to produce in new starts — they deserve all the praise and accolades they receive. But they should not be lifted up as examples for others to follow. What they do can’t be replicated, no matter how many books they write that indicate otherwise. And it is in NO WAY healthy when the long-term success of the congregation is dependent on their leadership. Founders are great, but they are greatest when they make themselves irrelevant. Way too many of our congregations flourish under the leadership of the founder, then fail when leadership changes. This should be the true indication of a fantastic founder — that he or she creates a community that does better after they leave than it ever did when he or she was there!
Remembering the Future March 6, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
I spent the day at the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century (SBC 21) summit in North Charleston, South Carolina. The positive spirit and energy of this gathering is infectious, and the hopeful vision is noble. But this is a gathering of leaders from throughout our connectional system, and it’s disheartening that there are no more than 8 or 9 non-black participants at the event. In my own experience, I was asked no less than 3 times why I was attending this event… why didn’t I send (insert name of African-American leader here)? The “us/themness” of our current church is distressing. The health and vitality of the black church is “our” responsibility — the whole “united” Methodist church. Where is everybody? Are we still marginalizing and factionalizing our church after all we’ve learned? Do we really believe systemic change is possible when we pay lip service to our pluralism, but fail to come to the table together? I’m sorry. This is a great vision that way too many leaders in our church remain woefully ignorant about.